The Michigan Wolverines enter Sunday's regular-season finale against the Indiana Hoosiers with a chance to grab a share of the Big Ten title with a victory. Several aspects of this game must go in Michigan's favor, though, if a win in the friendly confines of the Crisler Center is to be realistically expected.
In the last matchup in Bloomington, the Hoosiers emerged with an 81-73 triumph, toppling the Wolverines as the top-ranked team in the country. Thankfully for John Beilein's bunch, a lot of positivity has been generated lately with key wins over Michigan State and at Purdue.
Here is a breakdown of some things Michigan needs to do this time around against the Hoosiers to avoid a similar, disappointing fate that defined the first encounter.
Get Glenn Robinson III going early
In some of the Wolverines' most critical games, the talented freshman forward has disappeared or been a non-factor. Robinson played all 40 minutes against the Hoosiers in February, but hoisted only six shots—and made only one.
It's definitely important for Michigan's other prominent contributors to have big games in countering the even more explosive IU offense, but Robinson especially will be an X-factor.
The Wolverines have not lost once this season when Robinson has scored in double-figures. There is no questioning his talent, but he has deferred too frequently and not played to his potential in too many big contests.
If GRIII is aggressive and asserts himself in the first half while avoiding foul trouble, Michigan will be in great shape. Being in front of the home crowd should help the youngster get into a rhythm, although he will have to face the formidable senior Christian Watford.
That didn't go so well last time, but whatever Robinson couldn't solve against his older competitor needs to be remedied with a double-figure showing on Sunday.
Keep Christian Watford off the glass
To continue the discourse about Watford, he racked up 14 points and 10 rebounds in the first tilt with the Wolverines, showing his dominance on both ends of the floor.
Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo are the leading scorers of this Indiana squad. That has opened up space for Watford to operate, as he is able to stretch the floor as a 4 and hit three-pointers at a 48 percent clip.
That's why it's so impressive that he is still able to pull down 6.4 rebounds per game. Watford snagged 10 boards in the first meeting with the Maize and Blue, and a similarly productive effort in that regard would likely doom the home team.
Michigan was out-rebounded 36 to 22, and a lot of that was due to settling for outside shots. That allows a strong, hustling athlete like Watford to crash the lane and get out quickly in transition.
The onus may fall on Robinson to do this, but the Wolverines definitely have a decided disadvantage in size. It will take a collective effort—and better shot selection—for that to happen.
Establish post game with Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary
Sometimes the best defense is a good offense, and the more production that Michigan can get out of its bigs on offense, the better.
Morgan's scoring numbers have decreased in each of his three seasons in Ann Arbor, and his injury gave way to the talented freshman McGary playing significant minutes in the first IU showdown.
McGary was an efficient 5-of-7 from the field and put up 10 points and seven rebounds in 28 minutes. Now that Morgan will be in the fold for this one, it should only help, because McGary's defense is suspect.
It's going to be nearly impossible to stop Zeller, who is a player that is more easily contained than completely denied. But the Hoosiers star has been knocked off his game due to physical play. The Wolverines duo must bang bodies with Zeller as much as possible on the inside and attack him.
As versatile and skillful as Zeller is on the offensive end, a bad start defensively, early foul trouble and a raucous crowd could be enough to force him into a mediocre showing.
Forcing stud guard Trey Burke and the rest of the Wolverines' perimeter-oriented players to carry the load would not bode well for the Wolverines to beat a team like Indiana—even at home.